Why I Play the Ukulele

by Ragtimelil

Why ukulele you ask? There are many advantages of this lovely little instrument.

I’ve played some sort of instrument most of my life. I started with clarinet and oboe in high school. I made it to first chair oboe. Then I heard country blues on the radio. I had to have a guitar. I never was a great guitar player, but I could get by.
In college I started playing the washtub bass just because there were too many guitar players who were a lot better than I was. I discovered that I could really play the thing and loved playing rhythm. Later on, I found a string bass in a pawn shop. I never looked back.
I worked as a bass player for over a decade. I bought an electric Fender jazz bass and loved it. I had the frets removed so I could get a really singing sound. I already was playing a fretless bass so it was not a problem for me.
In one group that I played with the longest, we played a lot of different kinds of music. I built and played a dulcimer. I love the instrument, but it is rather limited unless you are the one or two people who can do anything with it. I’m not one of them. I still have a beautiful one that I love.
I played bodhran, a Celtic drum, not particularly well. I also played a couple of tunes on recorder.

Me on bass
Me on bass

The Lonely Dulcimer

my dulcimerLife got really hard. I had to sell my beautiful Gibson guitar to pay the mortgage. I never played it anyway. Then the jazz bass was the next to go. I still miss that one. My string bass started to come unglued.

I did start playing my dulcimer at sessions at an Irish pub. That really inspired me but then I moved away.

I’m living in a camper now and there is just nowhere that is comfortable to sit and play my dulcimer. I have no lap anymore and no comfortable chair. It’s just too long to even fit any way except one direction. I almost gave up playing it.

Eureka! the Ukulele

I was browsing around on YouTube recently and discovered people playing the ukulele. I always picture some dopey guy singing some sappy song with a uke. True, there are those around, but these guys were playing bluegrass, and swing and jazz. It just was too exciting.

The ukulele is a small instrument, even small enough to fit in my lap while I’m sitting at the computer. It’s also a very inexpensive instrument. It’s a perfect instrument to try out without spending a lot of money. (It’s great for kids too. It’s easier to handle that a big guitar). I just had to try one.

It comes in four basic sizes, From smallest up there is the soprano, concert, tenor and baritone. The first three are more or less tuned alike. The baritone is generally tuned like the top four strings of a guitar. There's also the bass ukulele. That's in a class by itself.

Antique Uke


After posting on Facebook that I wanted a ukulele, a relative of mine said she had an old one that she would give me. We finally got to meet up and she handed me a very old Harmony soprano ukulele. It is really an antique. They were made in the early 1900s and this one must have been one of the first.  It had a couple of cracks in it. I did a sloppy patch job just to keep it from cracking more. The strings are ancient, maybe as old as the ukulele itself. New strings are on the list.


I needed to learn chords so I picked a couple of tunes I already knew. I’m working on After You’ve Gone, a 1918 swing tune and Ukulele Lady, made popular by the Kweskin Jug Band. Some of the bluegrass players on the videos were using a banjo technique called clawhammer style. I want to be able to play bluegrass with my sister so I’m working on that. She taped some tunes for me so I play them and try to play along. I really am having fun learning to play this instrument.

I also discovered a fantastic group called the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain or UOGB. They play all sorts of music including rock. They do ham it up but my favorite videos are the ones where they are just jamming in the back room. They are fantastic musicians.

And I thought the soprano was small...

Now that I’ve had a ukulele in my hands and know that I really want to play one, I need to save up my money and get a tenor, although I'd take anything that comes my way. The soprano is just a bit small for my huge hands (see the video above), and the one I have is really an antique and should be preserved. I’ve also discovered that the uke can be tuned in different tunings and that is easier if a spare instrument is used. And, of course, I’ll have to get a bass ukulele, or Ubass, one day so I can get back to my first love, the bass.

Updated: 01/09/2013, Ragtimelil
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Ukulele Utterings

Ragtimelil on 04/08/2013

Yes, all of the above. Music just takes practice. (years actually, unless you're a genius and most aren't)

Ragtimelil on 04/08/2013

Yes, all of the above. Music just takes practice. (years actually, unless you're a genius and most aren't)

Tolovaj on 04/08/2013

I played a guitar for few months... Unfortunately it pans out I am extremely untalented, so my dreams to become a rock star vanished for good. Maybe ukulele would be more appropriate? Less strings, not so loud, easier to hide...?
Hey, all the best with your uke!

Ragtimelil on 01/18/2013

Thanks. I'm doing my best...

katiem2 on 01/18/2013

Hang in there :)

Ragtimelil on 01/17/2013

Alright! A uke lover! It really is a versatile instrument. I'm still working on playing one song without stopping, but it's coming along.

katiem2 on 01/17/2013

I adore the Ukulele, I have one of my Grandfathers, try to encourage my saks player to give it a go... Lovely instrument indeed.

Ragtimelil on 01/16/2013

Thank you. I do love my little uke. Now I just need to save my pennies and get a decent one, but for now, I'm learning.
Instruments do take longer to learn than singing. But you can enjoy them by just learning a few chords and singing.

sheilamarie on 01/16/2013

I love this article, Lana. Music is such a source of joy, isn't it? I sing, but I'd love to play an instrument or two. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ragtimelil on 01/10/2013

Thank you and 2ue both. I enjoy playing and learning new tunes. It's like having a collection of something without having to dust.

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